It’s all the buzz in the education world – collaboration – it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, especially when we start to talk about collaboration in the classroom. When Tony Wagner refers to collaboration, he refers to collaboration as it exists not simply in our day to day dealings with our peers but in our dealings with the global world.
In Wagner’s work, The Global Achievement Gap, he looked carefully at the make up of work place teams in the work world. They are defined much differently now than they were in the past century. Teams are more global and team members are expected to work with others closely, from half way across the world. They are expected to work synergetically and efficiently without ever having to make eye contact. That requires that they have great collaboration skills. Are we honing those in our schools? Are we teaching students to work closely with others and rather than using the authority of a hierarchical nature, use their influence, their soft skills, to build better relationships and get innovative and productive?
I know what you may be thinking. Some of you, some of you that are much like me, are cynical about the whole “molding students for a work world”. What about citizenship? Isn’t it the role of the school to nurture strong ethical citizens so that when students leave our schools they are more empathic and ready to contribute to more than simply a work world? Could there be a more important skill in the forming of a good citizen than the ability to collaborate and work with others? I can’t imagine what skill that may be. It seems more and more that the skill sets required for work in a global economy are also the skill sets required to keep our democracy safe and vibrant.
In the traditional classroom, where power is hierarchical, students work primarily in isolation and they are taught that the expectations will be laid out for them in a clear, concise way and that when they are complete, new instructions will be given out. Is that the real world? Not likely! Students need to be working in groups, taught to use their influence and communicate their thinking. They need to reach out to others out of their normal realm and create networks of support. They require opportunity to work in messy environments where innovation and failure, yes failure, are permitted and used as experience for the future. Hard to do that in a “sit and get” classroom.
Think about the opportunities you create for collaboration in your classrooms. How much of your day are students working in isolation versus collaboration? How are you working in the skill sets necessary for productive group work? Your class will get louder and there will be times it seems a bit overwhelming but, we just don’t get better at something unless we practice. Set up opportunities for collaboration in your class and allow our youth to practice.
Keep on learning!